OTTAWA, January 7, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – A disabled-rights group wants the Supreme Court to grant the federal government’s request for a six-month delay in legalizing assisted suicide, to ensure full protection for Canada’s disabled and vulnerable.
“The Supreme Court originally said they wanted a well-regulated scheme that protects the vulnerable,” Amy Hasbrouck, executive director of Not Dead Yet Canada, told LifeSiteNews. “We can’t get that done in the next three weeks.”
The Supreme Court of Canada will lead off its docket for 2016 with the Trudeau government’s request for six more months delay in implementing the court’s February 2015 decision in Carter v. Canada throwing out the Criminal Code provision against assisted suicide –and some argue—against euthanasia. At that time the SCC delayed implementation for a year to give federal and provincial governments as well as medical regulators time to develop regulations.
But the Fall general election came before the previous, Conservative, government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper considered policy or legal changes while the provinces led by Ontario put together a panel which only recently reported out with very liberal recommendations calling for children 12 and younger to be allowed assisted suicide with limited safeguards.
Next week the Supeme Court will begin considering the request from the new Liberal government, led by Justin Trudeau, for six more months to deliver “a thoughtful, sensitive and well-informed response” to the legislative challenge posed by Carter.
But the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the litigant which successfully argued Carter in the first place, says any delay would mean “unbearable suffering” for those with terminal illnesses so disabling they cannot commit suicide without help—and are thus denied a right available to the able-bodied.
Specifically the BCLA claims an extension would be “devastating” for Elayne Shapray, a B.C. woman with multiple sclerosis who wants to end her life as soon as the Carter decision comes into full effect.
The BCLA is supported by Dying with Dignity, whose CEO Wanda Morris said last month, “The government should be applauded for wanting to craft thoughtful legislation on assisted dying. But they can do so without trampling on patients’ rights.” Her group believes existing laws and regulations suffice “to ensure that assisted dying can be responsibly administered.”
Hasbrouck disagrees: there are no safeguards now in place, she says, to protect disabled people from being coerced into dying by their families or caregivers, or from their own temporary mental anguish. What’s more, she warns, so-called legislative protection found in other countries such as the Netherlands and some U.S. states, and recommended by the provincial panel, are significantly inadequate.
Existing regulations have two major flaws, Hasbrouck told LifeSiteNews. First, they let doctors decide if the patient is mentally competent and if the medical preconditions have been met; second, the doctors’ decisions are not vetted until after their patients are dead.
“We want these questions to be resolved by a judicial process before the fact,” said Hasbrouck. “If a person is not disabled but is suicidal, his family or friends or doctor can commit him to a mental institution where a judicial process determines his competence. We believe that disabled people requesting assisted suicide deserve at least as much protection as that.”
Hasbrouck said there was already anecdotal evidence that many in the health system believe that people with disabilities have lives less worth living than the able-bodied, and less worth protecting. “We interviewed a Montreal man, Thomas Middleton, last year who was allowed by hospital staff to starve himself to death. He told us he would not have been allowed to do that if he weren’t disabled.”
Hasbrouck says disabled people, especially right after a disabling accident, can fall into a suicidal depression which people are inclined to indulge. “But pubic policy is to prevent the suicide of people without disabilities and to treat their depression as a mental illness. It should be the same for disabled people.”